Occasionally its a quick night; on nights where she's exhausted, she's out in the middle of the first book. Most nights, its anywhere from three to eight stories and lately I've felt impatient. Impatient to finish, for her to fall asleep.
Last night, on the sofa, I performed my typical feats of nursing and reading simultaneously. Just as thoughts, that mental chatter, started to pop up ("surely it will be soon; she must be tired") and words to follow ("one last story, OK, sweetie? Last one."), an entirely new image popped into my brain. I imagined her, as an adult, relating to me how our ritual of reading at bedtime was a cherished childhood memory. I heard her, really, almost heard the words, saying she treasured that time, she felt special, loved, safe and valued. That she, as an adult, appreciated that we would read "one more story" and then "one more story" after that, that we read them gladly and with pleasure.
And the words "last one, last time" disappeared. We read until she fell asleep, somewhere near the end of "The Sword and the Stone" from Walt Disney's Classic Storybook, a book she loves though I don't think she's actually seen one movie from the entire collection. And then for another half hour after that, we stayed cuddled there on the sofa, she, this long, slender toddler, sprawled across my arms and I imagined myself, saying back to her, in those later years, "Dory, our bedtime stories are some of my best memories too. Some of my very best."